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Pieces of Eight


Lecture to Focus on Gender Dynamics, Whaling Industry

Lisa Norling, associate professor of history at the University of Minnesota, will present “Captain Ahab Had a Wife,” Feb. 21 at 7 p.m. in ECU’s Wright Auditorium.

Norling will present her research as this year’s Sallie Southall Cotton lecturer, presented through the Harriot College of Arts and Sciences’ Voyages of Discovery Lecture Series. Delivered annually, the Sallie Southall Cotton Lecture is presented by a woman of distinction on a topic related to women’s studies.

Norling’s work focuses on the connection between maritime history and women’s history. Her prizewinning book, “Captain Ahab Had a Wife,” examines gender dynamics in the American whaling industry from the 18th through the 19th century. Her findings illustrate how the dramatic growth of the whaling industry and the restructuring of life at sea and onshore reinforced evolving concepts about sexual difference, love and marriage.


Norling reconstructed the lives of “Cape Horn widows,” using letters and diaries of men and women, ship owners’ records, census reports, and newspaper and magazine articles. She also emphasized the significance of the sailors and ships that linked America and the rest of the world for centuries.

Published by the University of North Carolina Press (2000), “Captain Ahab Had a Wife” has won the 2001 Frederick Jackson Turner Award for best first book in American History, from the Organization of American Historians; the 2001 John Lyman Award for best book in American Maritime History, from the North Atlantic Society for Oceanic History; and the 2002 L. Byrne Waterman Award for Outstanding Contributions to Whales and Whaling-Related Research and Pedagogy in the Arts, Humanities and Sciences, from the Kendall Institute of the New Bedford Whaling Museum.

Norling will also speak Feb. 22 at 2 p.m. in the auditorium of the N.C. Maritime Museum in Beaufort; and Feb. 23 at 2 p.m. in the Tryon Palace Visitor’s Center Auditorium in New Bern.

The Voyages of Discovery Lecture Series is made possible through contributions from the Dean’s Advancement Council of the Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences, the East Carolina Alumni Association and additional supporters.

Tickets for the lecture may be obtained through the ECU Central Ticket Office. The cost to the general public is $10. Students, faculty and staff may obtain free tickets.

For additional information, contact John Tucker, director of the lecture series, at or (252) 328-1028. Information also is available at


This page originally appeared in the Jan. 25, 2008 issue of Pieces of Eight. Complete issue is archived at